Chandra Gupta Maurya: The Charismatic Emperor

Chandragupta Maurya was born sometime around 340 B.C., reportedly in Patna, now situated in the Bihar state of India. There are many arguments about his birth and his parents. Some texts claim that both of Chandragupta’s parents were of the Kshatriya i.e. warrior/prince caste, while others state that his father was a king but his mother was a maid from the lowly Shudra i.e. servant caste. Chandragupta’s grandson, Ashoka the Great, later claimed a blood relationship to Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, but this claim is uncorroborated.

From an early tender age, Chandragupta was valiant and charismatic born leader. The young man came to the attention of a famous Brahmin scholar, Chanakya, who bore a grudge against the Nanda King. The reason being, Nanda King Dhananand had insulted Chanakya in front of all courtiers and kicked him out of his court. Chanakya began to groom Chandragupta to conquer and rule in the place of the Nanda Emperor. He helped the young man to raise an army, and taught him various tactics.

Chandragupta associated himself to the king of a mountain kingdom, Puru, who had been defeated by Alexander and later onset out to conquer the Nanda. Initially, the upstart’s army was repulsed, but after a long series of battles Chandragupta’s forces cordoned the Nanda capital at Pataliputra. In 321 B.C., the capital fell, and 20-year-old Chandragupta Maurya started his own dynasty, The Mauryan Empire.

Chandragupta’s new empire, at the time of its founding, extended from what is now Afghanistan in the west to Myanmar in the west, and from Jammu & Kashmir in the north to the Deccan Plateau in the south. Chanakya served as the equivalent of a “prime minister” in the fledgling government.

Chandragupta Maurya was only a teenager when Alexander the Great of Macedonia invaded India. Facing stiff resistance all through and hampered by the high HindKush Mountains, Alexander’s army lost its will to conquer India at the Battle of Jhelum. When Alexander the Great died in 323 B.C. his generals divided up his empire into “satraps”, so that each of them would have a territory to rule. By nearly about 316 B.C., Chandragupta Maurya was able to defeat and incorporate all of the satraps in the mountains of Central Asia, extending his empire to the edge of what are now Iran, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

In 305 B.C., Chandragupta decided to expand his empire into eastern Persia also. At the time, Persia was ruled by Seleucus founder of the Seleucid Empire, and a former general under Alexander. Chandragupta detained a large area in eastern Persia. In the peace treaty that ended this war, Chandragupta got control of that land as well as the hand of one of Seleucus’s daughters in marriage. In exchange, Seleucus got 500 war elephants, which he put to use at the Battle of Ipsus later.

With as much territory as he could comfortably rule to the north and west, Chandragupta Maurya next turned his attention south. With an army of four lakh, Chandragupta conquered the entire Indian subcontinent except for Kalinga on the east coast, and the Tamil kingdom at the farthest southern tip of the land-mass. By the end of his reign, Chandragupta Maurya had unified almost the entire Indian subcontinent under his rule.

The Chandragupta’s queen’s name was Somay Gupta  Durdhara, the mother of his first son, Bindusara. According to legend, Prime Minister Chanakya was concerned that Chandragupta might be poisoned by his enemies, so he started introducing small amounts of poison into the emperor’s food in order to build up a tolerance. Chandragupta was oblivious of this plan, and shared some of his food with his wife Durdhara when she was very pregnant with their first son. Durdhara died, but Chanakya hurried in and performed an emergency operation to remove the full-term baby. The infant Bindusara survived, but a bit of his mother’s poisoned blood touched his forehead, leaving a blue “bindu” spot that inspired his name.

When he was in his fifties, Chandragupta became fascinated with Jainism, an extremely ascetic belief system. His guru was the Jain saint Bhadrabahu.As a result, in 298 B.C.; the emperor renounced his rule, handing over power to his son Bindusara. Chandragupta traveled south to a cave at Shravanabelogola, now in Karntaka. There, the founder of the Mauryan Empire meditated without eating or drinking for five weeks, until he died of starvation..

The dynasty that Chandragupta founded ruled over India and the south of Central Asia until 185 B.C. His grandson Ashoka followed in Chandragupta’s footsteps in several ways i.e. conquering territory as a young man, but then becoming devoutly religious as he aged. In fact, Ashoka’s reign in India may be the purest expression of Buddhism in any government in history. Today, Chandragupta is remembered as the unifier of India.



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